At the beginning of November last year, I had been having heartburn for a few days, which was very unusual for me. As my husband and I were trying to conceive, I had a small ounce of hope that maybe, just maybe I was pregnant.
“No, Kay. Don’t get ahead of yourself,” I told myself as a reminder as to the months of negative pregnancy tests and the miscarriage I had a few months prior. Besides, my period wasn’t due for another week and Japanese pregnancy tests were recommended for after the missed period.
The next morning, after a doctor refused to prescribe me medication because I may be pregnant and I had spent hours the night before Googling “heartburn pregnancy symptom” and “pregnancy test before missed period,” I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. In the few moments I had before having to get ready for work, I took a pregnancy test.
The second red line showed up almost immediately.
I blinked, swallowed, and went to the bedroom to show my husband.
“I’m pregnant,” I said casually, like I was telling him our rabbit needed food. Still half-asleep, he squinted at the white stick.
“You’re pregnant?” His brows were furrowed together but slowly dissolved as he smiled. He gave me a hug and kissed my stomach.
Then I got ready for work and headed out.
This wasn’t our first rodeo. The first time I was pregnant (which is for another post), there was a lot neither of us knew. When should we go to a maternity clinic? Where should we go? Can you make appointments? Should I be taking any supplements?
From my experiences, I have learned the following, which I hope will be helpful for moms-to-be in Japan or even in other countries. (Please keep in mind that every situation is different!)
10 Things To Do After Getting a Positive Pregnancy Test
- Start taking those prenatal vitamins, such as folic acid (葉酸). You can buy these easily both online and in stores and they come in a variety of types and flavors. You can check out my post here to read more about prenatal vitamins in Japan.
- Find a clinic nearby that works best for you, which may mean shopping around. There are a lot of things to think about when choosing a clinic, and provided cultural differences between Japan and your home country, you may want a doctor who will understand your background, be patient and answer whatever questions you may have without making you feel like an imbecile. After you get a positive pregnancy test, it’s okay to go to the clinic right away to confirm the pregnancy, although at times if it’s too early (around 4 to 5 weeks) they may not be able to find the embryo (which happened to me in my first pregnancy).
Start also thinking about where you want to give birth. Japanese women tend to go back to their hometown and if you want to give birth in Japan and your husband is Japanese, going back to your husband’s hometown for support from your in-laws may be an option. Keeping this in mind, also think about your birth plan and try to find a clinic that is able to meet your needs. Also note that you have to pay a deposit to give birth at a particular clinic. Mine was ¥200,000.
Here’s a short list of popular clinics/hospitals in Tokyo for English speakers:
-Japan Red Cross
-St. Luke’s International Hospital
-Jikei University Hospital
And some additional ones that provide English speaking services for gynecology and obstetrics:
–Toho Women’s Clinic (Kiba)
-Miyagishi Ladies Clinic (Meguro)
-Hiroo Minegishi Clinic (Hiroo)
-Kioicho Ladies Clinic (Chiyoda)
-Takanadawadai Ladies Clinic (Minato)
- After getting the green light from your doctor, register your pregnancy and get a boshi kenko techo (母子健康手帳), which means “Maternal and Child Handbook,” and a coupon book from your local municipal office. This is usually at around 8 weeks. We did that during the first pregnancy but ended up losing the baby before 12 weeks, which is why with our second pregnancy, we waited until we reached the 12 week mark. This meant we couldn’t use the coupons for discounted clinic visits that were included in the handbook as early.
You can also get an English boshi kenko techo if you need it, which can be bought from some municipal offices or online. It costs about 1200 yen including shipping but for me it was worth it. (Other languages, such as Chinese and Korean, are also offered, so check out the website!)
Make sure to have your residence card and proof of pregnancy from the clinic (ninshin todoke) on hand when you go to register your pregnancy.
- When you register the pregnancy, you’ll also get a maternity badge. Hang that maternity badge on your bag and sit in the priority seats on the train to avoid getting crushed. Of course, if you’re feeling energetic and want to stand, that’s fine but keep in mind that the trains can get really full and people will not notice whether or not you’re pregnant when they’re trying to force themselves on the train. Trains can also suddenly stop, causing you to fall or someone to fall onto you, so for safety’s sake, it may be best to just take a seat. To read more about commuting, including helpful terms in Japanese to ask for a seat, you can check out this post.
- Start cutting down on your caffeine and having decaffeinated (ノンカフェイン) drinks. There’s actually quite a lot available and even convenience stores like Lawson offer hot, ready-made decaf coffee. Truly a life saver in winter. Of course, it seems that drinking one cup of coffee a day is fine but always check with your health provider about how much you can indulge. One of my favorite drinks were caffeine teas from Lupicia. I bought one of their 福袋 or Lucky Packs, at the beginning of my pregnancy and fell in love with a variety of flavors.
It’s also easy to find non-alcoholic (ノンアルコール) drinks at restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, or even online. I quite liked this umeshu, which tasted pretty close to the real thing, as well as these Suntory drinks that are supposed to resemble cocktails (my male friends were not impressed but after not having alcohol for weeks which then turned into months, I was quite satisfied) and this sparkling non-alcoholic wine. However, whatever you do, do not get non-alcoholic red wine in Japan. I bought a bottle and it went straight down the drain.
- If you’re working, speak to your boss and HR as soon as you feel comfortable, especially if you have morning (aka 24/7) sickness, and try to figure out maternity leave and options for childcare leave, if available. Some companies (like mine) will also let pregnant employees come an hour late or leave an hour early to avoid crowded trains. Remember that all employees in Japan are entitled to maternity leave pay.
- Check out books on pregnancy and child-rearing. Audible offers a one-month free subscription, which I used to download a few books and listened to them during my commute. I also picked up a few which turned out to be invaluable.
Here are some of the books I recommend:
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child by the American Academy of Pediatrics
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp
I want to note that I also listened to the audiobook of Emily Oster’s Expecting Better, which is highly reviewed on Amazon, and although I appreciated the research put into it and most of the information provided, she lost me when she said a glass of wine (or any other alcohol) is fine once in a while. There has never been a controlled study done on the effects of one glass or a few (whatever that may be) of alcohol and I really think it’s just not worth the risk.
マンガ はじめての妊娠・出産 ハッピーガイド by Hitomi Naruse
7月生まれの赤ちゃんガイド by Dr. Takashi Igarashi (as my daughter was born in July I got the 7月 one but all the other months are available as well, of course)
たまごクラブ is also a popular magazine on pregnancy, which can be readily found at any bookstore, or you can sign up for 楽天マガジン and read たまごクラブ as well as other magazines for less than ¥400 per month.
- Join mom groups! In bigger cities like Tokyo, there are groups for pregnant foreign women where you can meet in person, such as Tokyo Pregnancy Group. For those of us who are a bit too busy with work to meet up, social media like Twitter can connect you to Japanese moms-to-be through tags like #初マタさんと繋がりたい (“I want to connect with first-time moms”). There’s also an app called Peanut that aims to help moms connect with other moms in their area.
Personally, I found Reddit to be the most helpful and joined a private group for July 2019 babies. (You can find a Bumper subreddit group to join according to the month you’re due here.) I didn’t meet anyone in Japan at the time but the women are very supportive and answer any questions you might have about pregnancy and being a mom. (Update: I did meet a mom in Japan on the Reddit group! She’s from Europe and was here temporarily doing research. It was so nice to connect with someone who understood what it was like to be a foreigner pregnant in Japan.)
- Download some pregnancy apps. It’s a good way to track how far along you are and how your baby is growing each week. Some apps also offer tips on what to eat, what to ask your doctor and allow you to track things like your weight. I opted for English apps (Ovia was my favorite) while my husband used a Japanese one for fathers (パパninaru) although there is one for mothers as well (ninaru).
- Think about your living space. A baby and all the gear they need takes up room, so if your apartment is small, you may want to look into moving. My husband and I moved into a larger apartment during my first pregnancy in order for the baby to have lots of play space. It’s a bit farther from the station and in a more residential area, but we felt it was a good place to raise a family. Lifestyles change after a baby is born so perhaps living a 10 minute walk away from a popular station in the heart of the city isn’t so necessary (although make sure you consider daycare locations as well).
There’s a lot going on when you find out you’re going to be welcoming a new baby into the world, but I found the most important thing is to relax, keep your stress levels down and remember that wherever you are in the world, the biological process behind pregnancy and childbirth are universal.